the state of the church

in the immortal words of george costanza, “i’m back, baby!”

i have been more than four weeks without my computer, and today i have taken delivery of a refurbished macbook (shopping is a frustrating pursuit when one is broke).  i have a couple of “blog series” gurgling in the recesses of my mind which i will dispense over the next few days.  in the meantime, i wish to impose on you, the most brilliant readers in the blogosphere (i know, gone a month and already asking for favors…doesn’t the “most brilliant readers” comment soften your hard hearts in the least?).  

as my regular readers will know, i preach expositorially at the fellowship i lead, and i am currently in between series (we will begin a study in the gospel of john the sunday after mother’s day).  next weekend, i have promised my church that i would share my perspective on “the state of the church.”  i plan to talk about the condition of the american church (primarily in contrast to the church in other nations) and trends that i am seeing.  too, i want to hold up a mirror and consider how we (my local fellowship) are doing with the mission that god assigned to us, and how we might go forward in carrying out our mandate.

here’s what i’m asking from you, dear reader…

being in the bible belt, our outlook is skewed.  in our region, most people are christians (or so they say) and church attendance remains strong (as you can see from the chart below).  i would be grateful if some of my internet friends from other parts of the nation/world would briefly share your opinion of “the state of the church” in america (and if you are as eloquent as i suspect you’ll be, i would appreciate permission to quote you).  i know some of you have left the institutional church in a state of disillusionment.  some of you lead local churches and i’m aware of some that are in the process of looking for a home church.   occasionally, i even have virtual visits from atheists that i consider friends.  all input will be greatly appreciated.  i even want to hear from those like me that are buckled firmly within the bible belt.

so weigh in, perceptive playmates.  i am eager to hear what you have to say (and i need the material for my sermon!).


Percentage of Each State’s Population that affiliates
with Evangelical Protestant Tradition

Legend for map colors


17 thoughts on “the state of the church

  1. Church…like all others things which exists…is represented by the Good, the bad, and the ugly! :smile:.
    The Good are those members who are the real deal. The ‘bad’ are those members who ‘think’ they are the real deal….but are not. The ‘ugly’ are those members who don’t care one way or the other. I think that likely describes most churches around the world. But if you are looking for the true Church…they are all the collective ‘ Good’ members present in every church or denomination around the world. They are the Body of Christ.

  2. wow, randy, where do i start? not that i just want to criticize and complain about the american church. but i do want to help in any way that i can to change it. and living in asia and africa for nearly half of my years in this century, i feel like i might actually have something useful to say this time. i’ll try to limit my post to two ideas.

    1. we are too attractional in our ministries. nearly every evangelistic tool we have involves inviting people to events. we’re basically saying, “we have Jesus over here; if you come to us, we’ll share him.” though what we’re really saying is, “we have our version of Jesus over here. we’ve made him just like us. and so, if you’re like us, and you come over here, we’ll share him, and you’ll appreciate him, because he’s like you too.” i guess i’m going beyond our attractional ministries to say that we create God in our own image. but i think that is the natural fruit of event-based, invitation evangelism. my guess is many of us fall back on this form of evangelism simply because it’s what we’ve always done. but probably the REAL reasons are that: 1) we just aren’t willing to live blatantly spiritual lives into our communities (which is how evangelism should be done — by being Christ to others), 2) we’re afraid of failure, and/or 3) we honestly believe evangelism is a job for the leadership and ministry staff only.

    2. americans in general are incredibly high on the concept and importance of the individual. this manifests itself in lots of ways:

    – we tend to think of ourselves as the center of the universe. [granted, cultures that think more highly of family or nation than the individual struggle with this as well, though they place family at the center of the universe… or nation.]

    – we tend to be materialistic and greedy.

    – we tend to make Jesus a personal savior and think of Christianity as what it does for me as an individual. i’d argue this was not God’s intent. not that he doesn’t care about the individual, but he certainly places it in its proper place — the context of community.

    – we like self-help and self-awareness and self-esteem, and so often believe that we can solve our own problems if we try hard enough. this leads to a legalistic form of Christianity.

    – we think of church in terms of what it does for us. we are the ones who are to be served. although scripture makes it clear the church exists for those outside it.

    i think i’ll stop there, because if i keep going, i never will… good questions, randy.

  3. I happen to be more encouraged about the state of the ‘Church” than I have been up to now in my 40-year Christian journey. But, I need to make Augustine’s distinction between the Visible and Invisible church. I am at once dismayed and elated ( a state I find myself in often about many things) by the Visible church. God is shaking the visible church from Reformed to mainline to Charismatic and the shaking hurts. It is good to see the chaff flying swiftly away. Many Roman Catholic, Episcopalian, Charismatic, Presbyterian (USA), and even fundamentalist church strains are displaying clearly how absurdly unbiblical they are and people are deserting accordingly.

    The Invisible church, on the other hand, are all of the true members of the Body of Christ set apart (holy) to God by virtue of the invisible Spirit of Christ living inside of them regenerated to be firmly and perseveringly in Christ (to borrow Paul’s pervasive phrase). Most of the Invisible church, happily, is embedded in the Visible Church—Baptists, Presbyterians, Assemblies of God, Methodists, Anglicans, etc. along with boatloads of tares. The invisible Church of Christ has been being tested sorely for quite awhile and the Lord is raising up tested leaders who are beginning to transcend denominational boundaries. Trans-denominational partnerships in many parachurch ministries are thriving. Cooperative efforts like Together for the Gospel, the Gospel Coalition, the Acts 29 network, even the increasingly reinvigorated Southern Baptist Convention, I think, harbingers a strengthening of the impact of true believers. Let’s be of good cheer and seek our place (where are you to be a joint or a ligament?) in serving and strengthening the Body of Christ so that we are “holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.” (Colossians 2:19). God is establishing and strengthening His true Church for upcoming impact. Let’s pray the primary prayers of Paul for the increasing of spiritual maturity and growth in wisdom & understanding for the members of the Invisible Church. I am convinced that the days ahead will be glorious for properly prepared believers.

    • amen, ed! may it be so! (btw, i’ve tried to leave comments on your site a time or two without any luck…good stuff, though)

  4. Would suggest reading the book “Quitting Church” by Julia Duin.

    It is insightful, especially for a pastor of a church.

  5. After living in China for a while, it was a struggle to return to America and try to re-enter the American church. What an opportunity it was to be involved in the body in Asia where I saw some of the poorest people on earth willing to give their life, literally, die for their faith. These people were challenged by leaders to give all to follow this Jesus not in order to gain something for the local body or bank account but because the leaders themselves were hot after God and had chosen to follow no matter the cost, danger, or ridicule. Part of my struggle to be a part of the local church in America is I see leadership using the “call to a walk of faith” simply to gain numbers and financial support. I see followers and believers not being challenged to walk and follow as Jesus called to those around him to “abandon it all.” The leadership of the American church is afraid to challenge people for fear of “running people off” when in reality if we could simply be hot after God in abandonment, we couldn’t contain the people. Believers in China will sit in a very small apartment for over three hours just praying. And, there will be upwards of one hundred of them in a 800 square foot dwelling. Those who couldn’t find a seat couldn’t stand around outside because of the local government watching every move they make waiting to dispand the meeting and imprison leaders if the meeting was discovered. But still the believers came. Somehow, the American church has gotten the idea that people suppy our financial needs instead of believing if God has called me to this work, then will HE not support it?
    It also seems that when believers to try to live in wreckless abandonment, the American church criticizes, persecutes and patronizes them until they themselves become the minority withing the church. That just can’t be right in the nation we call “under God.”
    I agree with Ed, I believe and feel in my spirit that God is calling to the invisible church, pruning us, growing us up and moving us into places to impact America and the world. I believe God is shaking his leadership, and when I say leadership I’m not just speaking of pastors of churches, I am speaking of all spiritual leadership in the Body of Christ. I believe God is calling to us to partner with Him at a high level of accountability. America is hungry and desperate (even though they wouldn’t admit it) for a true picture of this Jesus and I want to do my part to see their need met.

  6. Many great comments above.

    In one way, Oklahoma is the scariest place on earth to try to be a true believer. Our churches freely offer the “no cost or commitment christianity” every Sunday. This is the equivalent of the “no income verification mortgage.” I call it verbal Christianity. All you have to do is repeat after me. What Jesus really meant when he said “take up your cross and follow me,” was “repeat this sentence then go have lunch.”

    We live in an area where everybody is a “believer.” Counterfeits everywhere. People even act “good.” Churches here put a premium on looking good and acting good. Unfortunately in our environment, you can literally fake almost every part of being a believer in Oklahoma City. You don’t know if anybody is legit.

    The Truman Show. Everyday.

    • Totally agree, David, about it’s easy to fake Christianity. The part that scares me is our culture has made it normal to live in sin and continue to act like a Christian. Not being judgmental of people because I have sin I deal with but don’t you think that as the church presents the pure gospel the Holy Spirit will convict of sin? Just wondering, not judging. I mean some just act like “church” is just one more thing we do or add to our daily planner. There is no real transformation or difference made from encountering Jesus. For me, when I met him, HE CHANGED MY LIFE TOTALLY. Anyway, just some thoughts. Tell Tanna I said hi!!

  7. I am grateful for each response to this post. I am encouraged to see there are so many who SEE the things that are RIGHT and the things that are WRONG with the established church. From some of the comments, I am encouraged that many, like myself, have a burfden deep within the heart to GET IT RIGHT…FOR THE SAKE OF CHRIST AND THE GOSPEL!! Fran’s response was so very similar to a letter by Cori Ten Boom concerning China. In the letter, she expressed her heartfelt remorse for the false doctrines taught and preached which left China Christians unprepared for the tribulations which came upon them…and for which they were giving their very lives. We see those same things, today, the world over. Christians are promised ‘no tribulation’ and are caught unprepared when it comes.

    Again, I have been blessed and encouraged through the post and the related responses.


  8. Fran, I posted Corrie ten Booms letter concerning China at my blog site just now…if you are to check it out.

  9. The American church ( from the perspective of an Ohioan) is that she is made of imperfect people trying to put on the face of perfection.

    Sure we hear the stories of ‘Messy Spirituality’ and ‘Come as you are’ but somewhere between the message and the practice the message gets skewed and the people become as plastic as the crucifixions that hang from their rearview mirrors.

    My thoughts are that we are more apt to practice what we perceive to be the truth over what we are told is the truth. The message we hear is that Christ is sufficient but many of our practices scream “We need to help His message – bolster His image – so that we can attract people.” And so what we learn is that the perception is more important than the reality.

    We trade transforming lives by helping dead people find life in Christ for making people feel better about themselves through a ‘”making bad people good” exegesis of topical themed sermons.

    The American church has been borrowing secular practices for so long now that the worship service has come to be more about the creature instead of the creator.

    We bolster our egos through numerical success in order to stave off the feelings that we are missing something.

    We have replaced the spirit with pragmatism, faith with good works, and accountability with political correctness.

    In short we have replaced the Gospel message with a man-made religion.

    There are definitely exceptions to these observances, but this is what I see in the mainstream church.

  10. TONY: Whew! Hard words…but TRUE! I think you just said what John said to the church at Ephesus:

    Rev. 2:2 I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars:

    3 And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted.

    4 Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because THOU HAST LEFT THY FIRST LOVE.


    Tony said: ‘The American church has been borrowing secular practices for so long now that the worship service has come to be more about the creature instead of the creator.’

    Sorry to say…that seems a good observation concerning the apostate church.


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